VICTORIA – The B.C. government says it’s planning to increase the provincial minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.
Labour Minister Harry Bains said Tuesday a fair wages commission will be established in the coming weeks to plan how to raise the rate without hurting businesses.
“I think what we are doing is going with a responsible, fair approach so that the businesses know that it’s predictable, it’s incremental increases going forward so they can look at their structure, their costs ahead of time and knowing fully well what their costs will be,” he said.
A 50-cent increase announced by the previous Liberal government will go ahead as planned on Sept. 15, bringing the wage to $11.35 per hour, Bains said.
It will increase the wages of about 94,000 workers.
The minimum wage for liquor servers will also go up by 50 cents to $10.10 per hour and similar increases will be reflected in wages of live-in support workers and camp counsellors.
The NDP had campaigned in the May election to increase the minimum wage in B.C. to $15 per hour. After forming government, it agreed with the Green party to set up a commission that would oversee regular rate reviews.
Who will sit on the commission and its cost are still to be determined, Bains said.
Once the commission established, it will have 90 days to deliver it’s first report to government on raising wages.
“They will be doing a consultation with all stakeholders and academics and they will find a pathway for us on how they can guide us to reach $15,” Bains said.
Liberal Opposition labour critic John Martin called the 50-cent increase a “non-announcement” because the Liberals made the same commitment while in government.
Martin said in a news release that the NDP hadn’t outlined a clear path for consultation in taking the province to a $15 minimum wage and that doesn’t foster the investment needed to continue job creation.
“British Columbians cannot afford to roll the dice — we should have the facts, first.”
BC Chamber of Commerce president Val Litwin said while businesses are open to seeing wages reach $15, the four-year deadline the government has set is too soon.
“This is a significant increase,” he said. “If we inflate wages too quickly and a business model can’t absorb that spike in cost over a short period of time, the person that ultimately pays for it is the customer.”
Litwin said the ministry’s announcement for planned and responsible increases is promising and he wants to see consultations with the business community influence how those increases are carried out.
Alberta will be the first province to reach the $15 per hour rate next year, while Ontario plans to reach that rate in 2019.
“Just because they’re doing it doesn’t mean it’s going to be done well,” Litwin said, adding that studies out of the U.S. found increasing wages too quickly results in businesses reducing hours or cutting staff.
British Columbia has seen five increases to the minimum wage since 2011 after it was frozen at $8 for a decade under former premier Gordon Campbell.